Kent Archaeological Review extract

Fort Pitt -- Chatham.
by Keith R Gulvin.

The following report was prepared by members of the Medway Military Research Group over the past twelve months with the co-operation of Fort Pitt School and the Medway Divisional Education Officer.

Fort Pitt, now the Medway Technical School for Girls stands on high ground overlooking the Medway on the boundary of Rochester and Chatham. It was originally proposed to build a fort on this site in the 1790's to defend the river from Upnor to Rochester in conjunction with Fort Amherst. However nothing was done until 1805 when there was a very real threat of invasion from France. The Board of Ordnance drew up plans and had work put in hand straight away on the fort. The work was not completed until 1819, during which time alterations were made to the original plans. In 1812 two auxiliary towers were constructed on the flanks of the fort, these were called Delce and Gibraltar Towers. The towers were supposed to form part of a much larger line of fortifications that were to stretch from Fort Amhurst through Chatham and around Rochester to meet with the Medway and Fort Clarence (constructed at the same time) which also had two auxiliary towers similar to the ones at Fort Pitt. However, the towers and a short stretch of ditch from Fort Clarence to the Medway were the only part of the scheme completed.

GRAPHIC: Plan of Fort Pitt, Chatham.

Plan of Fort Pitt, Chatham.

Fort Pitt on completion had a large casemated block house on its Northern front to house the garrison and mount artillery. The centre of the Fort was occupied by a large brick tower similar to Fort Clarence. Several other brick buildings were constructed within the Fort. To the rear of the block house were constructed large underground magazines and reservoirs. At the Southern end were constructed gun emplacements for landward defence and an earthen outwork which was connected to the fort by a brick covered way in the ditch. The ditch was dry and was crossed by a drawbridge in the North West sector of the Fort near which was situated the Guardroom.

DRAWING: Fort Pitt -- Blockhouse 1860.

Fort Pitt -- Blockhouse 1860.

Fort Pitt's life as a defensive work was short for in 1828 it became a depot for invalided soldiers with 172 patients. In 1847 an asylum for insane servicemen was constructed which was in a separate fenced off section of the Fort, it had accommodation for 2 officers and 32 men. In 1849 the Fort became a general military hospital.

During the Crimea War (1854-56) Queen Victoria visited the hospital on three occasions with Prince Albert. She visited the wards and spoke to many of the patients. On her first visit the Queen was introduced to George Hayward who was over 90 and had been bedridden for over 30 years. It later turned out that George had mutilated himself to get out of the fighting at Waterloo by cutting off one of his feet. The story goes that the surgeon at the hospital on hearing this, then cut off his other foot, making him totally bedridden. Queen Victoria must have found out about this for on her subsequent visits she did not see George Hayward, who it was said was most upset by this. George's bedstead was kept as an exhibit in the hospital for many years after his death.

DRAWING: Fort Pitt -- The Asylum 1847.

Fort Pitt -- The Asylum 1847.

In 1860 Florence Nightingale started the first Army Medical School at Fort Pitt whilst awaiting the completion of the new school at Netley. The hospital amassed a large collection of skulls, dried heads, mummies and other specimens of what must have been the first medical museum. Some of the collection was later transferred to the Natural History Museum in London.

In 1879 Gibraltar Tower to the West of the Fort was demolished to make way for St Andrews Church. Deice Tower which was in a ruinous state by this time, was probably demolished shortly afterwards.

In October 1914 during the First World War King George V visited the hospital and was shown round by Col H A Haines, Officer-in-Charge. The King also met five German Naval Officers who were among the batch of 70 prisoners held in the Fort. In 1915 new buildings were constructed to enlarge the hospital; it was originally intended to replace all the buildings, but owing to the cost the scheme was dropped.

After the First World War the ditch was filled in to create work for the unemployed of the Medway Towns.

In the early 1920's the hospital was closed and in 1927 the site was purchased by the Kent Education Committee for conversion into the Chatham Technical School for girls. The block house was pulled down in the early 1930's and the site is now occupied by the Medway College of Design.

During World War II the old magazines were converted into air raid shelters and classrooms which could hold up to 568 persons. Today much of the old Fort and hospital remain incorporated into the Medway Technical School for Girls, Medway College of Design and the Medway Technical College Annex which was constructed on the Southern part of the Fort. The remains of Delce and Gibraltar Towers can also still be seen, as can the brick revetted ditch of the block house.

One interesting feature that remains to the South of the Fort is the Military Cemetery which was attached to the old hospital. Some of its more interesting headstone inscriptions are related below:

"Pte. T W Hall 37th Co. R.M. Light Infantry who met an untimely death at Chatham July 30th 1881."

"Pte. James Connell Scots Guards who died from wounds sustained at Festubert 3rd July, 1915, age 34."

and finally two graves side by side which each read:

"A Soldier of the Second World War, 1st June, 1940 known unto God."

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